Only one top-four seeded teams survived the gauntlet that was the early rounds of the women’s elimination bracket at the CEV European Beach Volleyball Championships, aka EuroBeachVolley, taking place this week in Moscow. Heading into Saturday’s semifinals, only the No. 4, No. 9, No. 15, and No. 20 seeds remain in the hunt for the European title.
No. 4-seeded Kinga Wojtasik and Katarzyna Kociolek of Poland have lost just once throughout the European Championships—in pool play to the young Latvian duo of Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka, who are also in the semis—but they’ve been forced to go to a tie-breaking third set three times, including in their quarterfinal versus Joy Stubbe and Marleen van Iersel of the Netherlands.
At 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10, this Polish duo is massively undersized, but Wojtasik has the advantage of having been in this position before. The 29-year-old finished fourth in the 2017 European Championships with her former partner Jagoda Gruszczynska and took home a bronze medal at the 2015 event alongside Monika Brzostek.
The Poles’ opponents in Saturday’s second semifinal will be Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland. The No. 15 seed in the tournament, Heidrich and Verge-Depre also have just one pool play loss on their 2019 EuroBeachVolley record, but they were still able to secure a bye into the second round of elimination. Back-to-back three-set victories saw them advance to the semifinal round, the farthest either player has been in the European Championships.
Heidrich and Verge-Depre formed their partnership ahead of the 2017 season, following the retirement of both of their former partners immediately after the 2016 Olympics, and they have medalled twice on the FIVB tour since pairing up.
USC beach volleyball fans will be thrilled to hear that Graudina and Kravcenoka have continued their undefeated run in Moscow, upsetting four higher-seeded teams along the way to the semifinals. Graudina, a rising junior at USC, played at the No. 1 spot throughout the entire 2019 season for the NCAA-championship-winning Trojans. With Graudina just 21 years old and her partner Kravcenoka 22, this pair is by far the youngest in contention for European gold.
In the perfect contrast of youth versus experience, the Latvians will play the most veteran team still on the sand in Moscow in Sunday’s semifinals: Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez, both 32. The Spainards have played together for practically their entire careers, including competing in two Olympics together.
In their trophy case, Elsa and Liliana boast a CEV European Championships silver medal from 2013 and a bronze medal from 2012. The only thing missing is gold.
Watch the semifinals and medal rounds of the 2019 CEV European Beach Volleyball Championships right here on FloVolleyball.
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019